Verboten

When one is asked to think about an act they consider “forbidden” I am not sure standing in their house barefoot rather than in clean socks would come to mind. However, for Kyle, one of the three main characters in George Saunders’ “Victory Lap”, simple things that annoy parents could cause an uproar.

Throughout the section of this story that highlights what is going on inside Kyle’s head, we are never blatantly told, but can reasonably infer that his parents imply some element of neurosis, specifically OCD, onto everything that he does.

Kyle describes leaving small pieces of dirt that fell of of his shoes after a cross country practice as being “way verboten” which translates from German to “way forbidden” (11), followed by him mentally rehearsing “what if” statements in his head to mentally prepare himself for consequence if his parents returned home.

After racing to the garage to grab something to clean up the specks of dirt, he realizes he simply threw his shoes into the garage instead of placing them “on the Shoe Sheet as required, toes facing away from the door for ease of donnage later” and tore off his socks, leaving him standing barefoot in the living room, another act that he considered “absolutely verboten” (12).

Moments like this cause Kyle to do something that is a large part of how he handles situations; by swearing in his head. Arguing with himself about whether or not he is allowed to swear in his head because he is not allowed to swear out loud, we can see how his parents’ rules are driving him mad Phrases such as “crap-cunt shit-turd dick-in-the-ear butt-creamery” surround Kyle’s mind, simply because he does not feel he can express emotions and feelings that his parents cause him to have out loud.

Enacting extreme regime in a household, whether parents think it may be beneficial or not, tends to have a very large affect on children. From shows such as “The Strictest Parents in the World” on TLC to the words of George Saunders, we see the impact that reprimanding one’s child can have on their mental well-being.

The disregard of his passion for cross country because “anyone can jog” and credence that “if he [Kyle] wants the privilege of competing in team sport, he must show that he can live in our perfectly reasonable system of directives designed to benefit him”, shows us that Kyle seems to lack any sort of intimacy that a normal family household should possess (14).

There’s a saying that every house is a house but not every house is a home, which seems to ring true in this situation. Home should be somewhere where accomplishments are celebrated, memories are made, and relationships are fostered. In a home where the parents seem to believe that they had children for the sole purpose of their children serving them, a true societal binary nowadays when discussing involuntary submission and dominance, the lack of, in simple terms, love, causes extreme hardship, which can really drive some children to the point of exhaustion.

Repetition in Escape from Spiderhead

The story is “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders. The main antagonist of the story is Abnesti, the leader of the experiment who uses the prisoners as guinea pigs to create a drug to control love.

I found the second part of the story to be interesting as it journeys through the mind of a character whose feelings are being controlled and tampered with.

Throughout the story, there is a kind of baseline tone that is calm and to the point, and then there is a heightened tone when Jake is on drugs or he is trying to prevent torture or he is having an out of body experience as he accepts his death. In the baseline tone, sentences are shorter, ideas are more repetitive, and the characters seem to care less about their surroundings.

The baseline tone reminded me of a movie I watched recently called The Lobster directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s about an exaggerated future dystopia in which people find a relationship and stay in it or they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. One of themes is the grey area between true love and society pressuring people into relationships. In that movie people talk like robots and act emotionless. The characters get angry and sad, and they get happy, and their dialogue carries weight, but the way they act reflects emptiness. I found similarities between that movie and this story in the way that the prisoners have a lessened sense of reality which causes them to act strangely, as well as the way society in this story wants to control love.

My favorite quote in this story is on page 78. “Why was she dancing? No reason. Just alive, I guess.” In this part of the story, an indifferent Jake watches a character act strangely and doesn’t care enough to give an elaborate response to the situation. Whenever Jake is not high on Verbulace, he is indifferent to his surroundings. He accomplishes two things in the story: he solves the mystery of what Abnesti is doing, and he kills himself. And most of the story is very repetitive: he has sex with Heather and then he has sex with Rachel. He is put in a room with Rogan, and then Keith. Jake asks the same questions, and follows the same orders, and in the climax of the story he acts on “basic human emotion” and saves Rachel from torture, in a decision to end his life that lasts a few lines.

“Escape from Spiderhead” presents society within the walls of a prison and allows the protagonist to break out in the end. I think the way Saunders presents love is interesting, as a drug to be played with rather than a serious emotion to focus in on. And I think the way Saunders presents his characters is used to convey a sense of detachment from reality in a society where higher-ups have control over emotions like love.